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9 Things Which Are Quintessentially Summer Camp

Summer camp is a fun and exciting experience where time simply flies by. There are – quite literally – hundreds of things to do at camp, which makes it impossible not to miss them when you are not at your summer home. Here are just a few things that will always remind you of camp on those cold winter evenings:

P4-5 (12)1.   Sports
From intercamps to leagues and under-the-light football games, there is no better place to maximize your athletic prowess than at camp. The list of sports at the Laurel Camps is endless: Soccer, Basketball, Lacrosse, Tennis, Hockey, Fitness, Football, Golf, Gymnastics – the list goes on and on. Not to mention the outstanding fields and courts. A summer spent at camp is sure to be action-packed in any sport you desire.

2.  Beautiful Waterfronts
Seeing a Mastercraft ski boat or a Hobie Cat is sure to remind you of your unforgettable summers at camp. From waterskiing to sailing to bumper tubing and wake-surfing, camp has plenty of water-sports to fill your day. Echo Lake at Camp Laurel and Crescent Lake at Laurel South are two of the most magnificent lakes in the northeast. Crystal-clear, sparkling and waiting for you!

3. Arts & Crafts
According to the American Camp Association (ACA), arts and crafts is among the five most popular activities at summer camp, and why wouldn’t it be? Kids simply love spending a part of their day in a place filled with glitter, paint, scissors, beads, and other craft items. With arts and crafts, the possibilities are endless.

4. Campfires
A campfire is a mainstay at every camp. The activities, songs and traditions differ from camp to camp. However, one thing that remains consistent is the sacred relevance the campfire holds. The fire symbolizes camp life, and the burning wood serves as a reminder of picturesque settings in the Maine woods.

5.  Camp Songs
What better place to sing, cheer and shout than camp. We love singing at camp! Whether in the cabin, on the stage or around a campfire, camp songs are a big part of summer life. The slightest reminder of a camp lyric or tune will surely have you reminiscing about your summers spent in Maine.

6.    S’mores
A summer isn’t complete without s’mores. And besides, it’s hard to resist the pleasure of melted marshmallows and chocolate sandwiched between two graham crackers. Just one bite is enough to bring instant memories of camp.

P1 (8)7.    Cabins
You might think: ”What’s so special about a cabin?’” Well, they are much more than places where counselors and campers sleep. It’s where everyone becomes a family, memories are made and friendships are nurtured.

8.    Bells
Bells guide campers through their day at camp. Wake up, activity change, meals and evening programs – we’d know that sound anywhere! No annoying PA system announcements here. It’s back to nature and the call of the wild… Just listen to the loons on the lake, there’s nothing better!

9.    Crazy Wardrobe Preferences
Camp is perhaps the only place where you will get complemented for wearing bright colors, body paint, hats, wigs and other funny clothing. Funny isn’t it? But, it’s an experience that will always bring back good memories.

The Laurel Camps…Give Thanks to the Camp Industry

The Laurel Camps are proud to be part of the summer camp industry. For nearly 150 years, camps have helped boys and girls discover new skills, form lifelong friendships and learn about themselves all in a healthy, natural environment.

During this Thanksgiving month, we appreciate our good fortune of spending summers on Echo and Crescent Lake. We also take time to honor other summer camps serving children less fortunate that provide the same joys the Laurel Camps.

Located in Casco, Maine – the same town as Laurel South – Camp Sunshine allows children with life-threatening illnesses to thrive in the camp experience. Camp Sunshine brings in each camper’s family and aims to alleviate the strain that a life threatening illness takes on both the sick child and their family. Families have an opportunity to rebuild their relationships together and meet other families facing similar challenges, while their child plays, relaxes, and enjoys the simple pleasures of life. More than 45,000 families and campers have been taken in by Camp Sunshine.

Every Sunshine Camper is sponsored by an individual, business, civic group or foundation, so no child pays a penny. Volunteers assist with every facet of camp. We are honored that, for many years, Camp Laurel’s oldest campers have volunteered at Camp Sunshine.

We also support The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. Founded in 1988 by Paul Newman, its headquarters are in Westport, Connecticut – home of Camp Laurel’s winter office. The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp offers seriously ill children and their families fun, friendship and the chance for kids to, “raise a little hell,” in the immortal words of Paul Newman.

Paul Newman’s dream was for children to experience camp’s transformational spirit and friendships. His personality and playfulness infuse every corner of the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. As with Camp Sunshine, a dedicated cadre of volunteers makes each summer memorable, for every child.

We give thanks too for Ramapo Anchorage Camp. Located in Rhinebeck, New York, Ramapo serves children who face learning impediments, including those with special needs. Like all camps, keys to success include a caring staff, rituals and routines, celebration of individual and group accomplishments, and a serious dedication to fun.

Ramapo’s Executive Director, Adam Weiss, has been a force in the camp industry for many years and has worked with the Laurel Camps’ Directors, Keith, Jem, Debbie, Roger and Dagni, on various committees over the years.

These are just three of the many camps we proudly share an industry with. As Laurel Camps’ families enjoy holiday meals this month, let’s all give thanks for so many wonderful “camp families.”

A Whole New World

At one of America’s Finest Summer Camps, a first year camper, upon stepping off the bus on arrival day for the first time, immediately exclaimed, “I’ve been waiting for this moment my whole life!” The awe of that young camper at that moment was very reminiscent of the scene in The Little Mermaid in which the young mermaid Ariel finds herself on land for the first time and, with her new legs, begins experiencing a whole new world. She is mesmerized by the smallest human things—flatware, trinkets, and mirrors. For young campers who finally get to come to camp for the first time after sometimes waiting their “whole lives,” there is a sense of wonder in being in a new place with different people and things. They are surrounded by literally dozens of activities that perhaps they’ve never tried and, sometimes, of which they’ve never even heard. Like Ariel the mermaid, they sometimes hear about the world of camp from older siblings for years before finally getting to experience themselves. With that newness and the adventure of being in a place one has dreamed for a very long time comes a sense of openness and a willingness to try new things. New campers often want to try EVERYTHING!

And why not? What better way to discover which things one loves than at summer camp, an environment in which many new campers are away from their parents for the first time? There is no sideline pressure from over-zealous parents and coaches at camp sports. There are no teachers to mark right from wrong. Instead, new campers are surrounded by supportive counselors, staff, and friends, many of whom are also first time campers and that natural empathy creates an atmosphere conducive to bonding and the formation of lasting friendships.

As campers maneuver the new world of camp, they share like experiences. Whether big, like taking on a high ropes course for the first time as a cabin or small, like learning how to bait a fishing hook, learning what camp is all about becomes the foundation for the transformation of the new world of first time campers into the special world of camp. Because the menu of camp activities constantly expands and evolves, there is a perpetual newness to the summer camp experience.  Even though, for older campers, camp becomes a special place to which campers get to journey once a year, that essence of being a whole new world lives on summer after summer and is what drives campers to spend their winters counting down for that annual journey to experience it.

One of the Most Memorable Summer Camp Activities

One of the biggest parts of the summer at most traditional summer camps and nearly as big of a tradition as the concept of summer camp is the color war. For several days, campers and staff members parade around camp in their team colors. Body paint, capes, mismatched socks, colored hair spray, pom-poms, and tutus are the en vogue accessories, and enthusiastic demonstrations of team pride via spirited cheers are infectious.

Although an emphasis on friendly competition geared toward giving campers an opportunity to put their camp skills to the test while exhibiting exemplary sportsmanship has prompted many camps to change the name to such things as Challenges, Tribals, College Days, and Olympics, the concept remains the same: Campers are placed onto teams and, for several days, engage in a host of activities designed to re-cap the summer—a sort of “best of” replay.

Whatever the name, the competition is often full of traditions regarded as sacred by campers and staff alike. The beginning of the games is invariably a surprise to campers and much of the staff with the reveal being is a closely guarded secret about which there is quite a bit of discussion and speculation in the days leading up to it. The breakout is unquestionably, one of the biggest events of the summer and always on everyone’s list of favorite moments from the summer. Counselors are included in the action as team leaders and coaches.

The end of the competition often involves some sort of bonding activity designed to bring the teams back together as one camp family to finish out the summer because, in the end, the emphasis of a color on color contest is not whether one is on a winning team when all is said and done, but that each and every camper has had the opportunity to demonstrate what he or she has learned over the summer and, thus, gain an understanding of how each person brings something different and valuable to the camp family. Such a focus makes these types of camp activities a valuable lesson in diversity and teamwork. Everyone has a unique role on the team that directly affects the team’s overall performance. For anyone—camper or staff—who has ever been a part of camps, it’s the part of the summer that is undoubtedly one of the most memorable.

Past the Post Camp Lull

It’s here.  The lull.  The point at which the reality has set in that summer is over but next summer isn’t quite real enough.  By now, most of us have shared our favorite memories of camp at least a half dozen times with anyone who will listen  and we’ve actually started to settle into our fall habits, even if we still catch ourselves humming camp songs in that off moment while riding in the car or doing homework.  There is a peacefulness about this time of year, though, because it’s the point at which we really begin to grasp the summer couple of months, reflect on them, and embrace the memories of them.  Believe us!  We’re not joking when we say that for those of us at camp, the summer passes with lightning speed.  Blink more than once and miss it speed, in fact.

It’s hard to really take it all in in the moment.  But one of the best things about camp is that it is something that can be savored.  Henry David Thoreau wrote, “But the place which you have selected for your camp, though never so rough and grim, begins at once to have its attractions, and becomes a very centre of civilization to you.”  And he was right.  Camp is as much a mindset as it is a place.  For the next ten months, things will regularly happen that will remind us of something that happened at camp.  Whether it was a heart to heart with a counselor, a favorite activity, or even just the adventurous spirit that comes with discovering something new, each summer at camp is full of about a million opportunities to learn just a little bit more about life, some of them impossible to realize until well after the original moment has passed but each of them capable of taking campers and staff back to that “place.”

Summer Camp Helps Children Maintain Routine

Summer camp is a lot of fun. One need only ask any camper on virtually any summer camp campus to confirm that notion. Children love the activities and the relatively relaxed environment of sleepaway camp. However, there is something else that summer camp children crave, although they might not know it: structure. Dr. Laura Markham asserts that routine helps children develop self-discipline, cooperation, change tolerance, and responsibility.

To an outsider, summer camps may seem like little more than organized chaos. However, most summer camps operate around set daily schedules that move children from activity to activity at specific times throughout the day. Although the daily activities may change, the times and length of the periods do not. Meals are also held at set times. The use of bugle calls, bells, music, or announcements assist campers in transitioning from one part of their day to another, which, according to Markham, helps eliminate power struggles by setting parameters and giving children a recognizable sign for knowing when it’s time to bring one activity to a close and move onto another without being told.

A daily routine also helps at night. Research shows that children who have a structured schedule sleep better at night. Routine also lessens anxiety and improves behavioral issues. Children feel less anxiety when they understand what is expected of them and can confidently anticipate what will happen next. Summer camp is built on traditions that happen from year-to-year. Many camps are also divided into age groups that serve as steps through the camp experience from the first year of camp to the final. From their first day at camp, there are certain rites and privileges related to sleepaway camp traditions specific to each age group to which campers can look forward as they get older. That children can see from the beginning that summer camp is a progressive process also helps them to understand the concept of patience when working toward a goal.

Because of the benefits provided by the structure of summer camp, many parents are increasingly seeing the advantages of time spent at summer camp. As a result, summer camp is experiencing a revival of sorts as a summer staple. More than eleven million people attended camp last year, according to the American Camp Association. If you’re trying to think of a way to add value to your children’s summer, consider sending them to summer camp.

Learning the Value of Tradition at Camp

The holidays are around the corner.  During that time of year, the word “tradition” gets thrown around a lot.  But how many people actually understand what tradition is really?  Perhaps it’s the emphasis on forward thinking and constantly in-motion global community that has caused many to confuse “tradition” with “routine.”  They’ve both become something that we do on a regular basis in order to establish or maintain a consistency or pattern in our behavior.  So what really distinguishes “tradition” from “routine”?

First, routine is something that one person does but might not necessarily have in common with others.  Most people brush their teeth at some point in time in the morning.  Few people do it at exactly the same time.  Some shower first.  Others eat breakfast.  Eventually, everyone brushes their teeth but the experience is, for all intents and purposes, individual.  There is no shared significance.

Tradition, on the other hand, is by definition community oriented.  It’s a shared custom, belief, or activity with a common understanding of the reason for its practice.  Many of us eat turkey at Thanksgiving because we symbolically associate it with that first meal between the pilgrims and native Americans.  It’s a tradition.

Second, routine, unlike tradition, is not necessarily multi-generational or even long-term.  It’s something done for a specified length of time.  While we maintain some routines for all or much of our lives, others are short term.  If one gets the flu, for instance, one might temporarily take up a routine of antibiotics.  But once the flu subsides, so does that routine.

On the other hand, tradition is something that is a common bond between multiple generations.  It’s an acknowledgment that an event or action was significant to someone tied to our past, and the observance of traditions our way of paying tribute to that event or action as well demonstrating our understanding of it.

Finally, routine is task oriented.  We take up routine in order to accomplish a goal.  There is an intended result in routine.  Tradition, however, is an observance.  Routine is a way of moving forward, whereas tradition pays tribute to the importance of the past.

By now, you’re surely asking yourself what any of this has to do with summer camp. Simply this: in a culture that places a significant amount of importance on the establishment of routine, the value of tradition is increasingly less understood and appreciated.  Summer camps, however, are grounded in tradition.  They’re  a place where campers and staff members alike get refresher courses in the power of tradition.  Whether it’s at a campfire, a sing along, or an activity specific to the camp, there are literally hundreds of opportunities every summer for those at a summer camp to bond through tradition.  Many former summer campers and staff members actually name “tradition” as one of their highlights of summer camp.  So if tradition has become an element of holidays past, consider giving your children a future opportunity to enjoy tradition at summer camp in 2013.

Camp: A Different Set of Expectations

Okay, admit it. You’ve found yourself spending a considerable amount of time admiring that candle your daughter gave you on her camp’s Visiting Day or those wooden bookends your son brought home. Part of you wonders how come you never got to make stuff that cool when you were a kid while another part of you is mystified by how the arts and crafts staff of your child’s summer camp was able to draw out the Picasso in your little ones. After all, you can barely get them to focus long enough to make a poster for their science projects. What is it about camp that seems to facilitate children’s creativity?

Sure it’s woodsy and remote, even quaint–the perfect place for children to feel free to be themselves. They certainly do a lot of things at camp that they don’t get to do at home. And you did spend the entire summer looking at photos of your daughter posing in a rainbow colored tutu—Did she ever take that thing off?—and of your son covered in face paint knowing full well that neither of them would EVER dress like that at home. And was that your son dressed as a dog singing on stage? Singing? Him? Really? And last night he just told you, by the way, that he is trying out for the school play this year because the camp play was really fun. He would never ever—even if someone had double dog dared him—have auditioned for a play before camp. What changed? The Expectations.

There are a lot of reasons children find themselves exploring more creative avenues at summer camp, but one really big one is that the expectations are different. Children learn to respond to expectations. Moreover, they learn to respond to the expectations of individuals. They understand that their parents have expectations as do their teachers, siblings, friends, coaches, so on and so forth. Whether we’re comfortable admitting it or not, a lot of the expectations in that ten month world campers know as “winter” in some way promote conformity. Expectations placed on children at home, in school, etc. emphasize the importance of following rules and established guidelines. Of course, camp expectations do this, too, but the emphasis at camp is not to find one’s place in that larger whole by blending in but by standing out. Camp is a place in which children are encouraged to try new things in a quest to find their passion.

Sure you’re thinking of those photos of your daughter holding up her latest tie-dye creation for the camp photographer’s camera—those ones in which she was covered to her elbows in dye—and you’re thinking that’s you wouldn’t really classify tie-dye as a “passion.” Maybe not. But it could be the beginning of one, the spark that leads to an interest in art or the arts, or even just the memory of trying something new that turned out to be fun that lends courage to trying other new things. The expectations in the “world” of camp is that campers will explore it. Perhaps this is why it’s no surprise that many well known figures attended summer camp and attribute it to being the place where they found long-term direction. Sure, learning how to plunk out folk songs on a guitar is a long way from the philharmonic and being part of the chorus in the camp play is certainly not Broadway, but the idea is the same and, for many campers, it’s the start of building enough self confidence to stand out.

It’s Time to Start Thinking About Packing…

May means a lot of things to a lot of people.  To some it’s Memorial Day and the official beginning of summer.  For others, it marks the end of another school year.  For summer camp parents, it means it’s time to start thinking about packing.  For first time parents, the task can seem absolutely overwhelming.   How much sunscreen and shampoo do I pack?  Do they really need shinguards?  How many t-shirts are enough?  For seasoned camp parents, packing is a science based on experience.  The art is in packing just enough but not too much or too little…and knowing which items the children have sneaked into their bags to take out and which ones to let go.  Packing properly takes time…and patience.

Camps provide rather comprehensive packing lists.  These should not be disregarded.  They’re compiled by professionals with years of camping experience who have excellent knowledge of what children’s bags need to contain in order for them to arrive prepared for a successful summer at camp.  Also keep in mind when packing that living space is somewhat limited at camp.  Your child will not have his or her own room at summer camp.  He or she will live together with several other campers as well as a couple of counselors. This means that there is not a whole lot of room for “extras” and labeling clothes is important as mix-ups are otherwise bound to happen.  If laundry is your primary concern, rest assured that camp laundry is done at least once per week.  Your child’s counselors and other camp staff will see to it that your child has clean clothes.

Summer camp values also often downplay appearance.  The emphasis of summer camp is on fun, friendship, and safety.  Before the end of the summer, your child will likely get wet, slimed, painted, generally messy, and a host of other cool things that tend to make children laugh and adults cringe.  So keep the really good stuff at home and send clothes that neither you nor they will miss too much if they have to be “retired” at the end of the summer.

It’s important for both new and seasoned camp parents to pay as much attention to the items your child’s camp asks not to bring as those items it asks to bring.  There is a reason your camp requests that certain items not be brought onto campus, whether it’s to help facilitate a specific environment, protect those with allergies, or to avoid other issues not conducive to the spirit of summer camp.  Packing “do not bring” items risks them being lost or confiscated until the end of the summer.  This ultimately causes undo stress on your children.  Alleviating stress that results from the idea of having to leave a beloved item such as a cell phone or notepad at home is typically accomplished by reiterating to children about what they will have at camp as opposed to what they won’t.

By following your camp’s advice and being proactive rather than reactive, packing for camp can be a fun countdown to camp rather than a reactive chore.

A Network of Lifetime Friends

One of the most touted benefits of working at a summer camp is the network one may build even within the parameters of a single summer.  Unlike many work environments, which tend to draw locals with a telescoped set of talents, summer camp attracts staff from virtually all over the world who possess an array of abilities.  A successful summer at camp requires the expertise of athletes and artists alike.  Because summer camps are 24/7 communities, staff members tend to form very close bonds within the two months that they reside at camp each summer.  Camp breeds a sense of family, which is precisely why, for a good many staff members, goodbye at the end of the summer is seldom goodbye forever.  Thanks to a little help from social media outlets such as Facebook, it’s possible to stay in touch with summer camp friends no matter where on earth they live.  Whether it’s couch surfing while traveling, hunting for a job, needing a little bit of advice or support, or sharing an inside joke, camp friends are there.  Working at summer camp is more than just a summer experience.  It’s a way to form a global network of friends for life.

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